Delivering Stem Cells without Surgery

MIAMI, Fla. One heart attack behind him, Max Eaton is now struggling with heart failure. He's hoping stem cells are the answer to heal his ailing heart.

"I happened to run into this article, which was the second or third time I heard about this stem cell research, and decided nothing ventured, nothing gained," Eaton told Ivanhoe.

Instead of surgery, where the chest is opened and stem cells are injected into the heart, Alan W. Helman, M.D., an interventional cardiologist at the University of Miami, delivers the cells through a catheter that's threaded through the groin. The spiral-shaped needle at the tip is screwed into the heart.

"We can now inject the cells exactly where we want to in the inside part of the heart, and we can do it in multiple different locations," Joshua Hare, M.D., a cardiologist at the University of Miami, told Ivanhoe.

Doctors say it's a more efficient way of delivering stem cells.

"By using this needle that has a corkscrew-shaped tip, we have some evidence that the fraction of cells that actually stay in the heart as opposed to leaking out through the injection track is much higher," Dr. Heldman explained.

Doctors say using a catheter could allow millions more people to be treated who aren't strong enough for surgery.

"This could become an outpatient procedure or maybe a one night in the hospital type of procedure," Dr. Hare said.

Eaton was eager to be first in line, despite risks like damage to the heart and blood vessels.

"The small risk of doing something and perhaps maintaining a reasonable lifestyle seemed well worth it," he said.

Now, Eaton is hoping his wager on stem cells will pay off.

Doctors say Eaton is responding well to his stem cell treatment. All of the stem cells being used in this trial are adult stem cells. Studies have shown injecting heart attack patients with adult stem cells can increase the pumping power of the heart. However, it is not an approved treatment for re-growing heart tissue.

Omar Montejo
Miller School of Medicine
University of Miami
(305) 243-5654

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